29 Oct 2022

Climate change: UN warns key warming threshold slipping from sight

8:15 am on 29 October 2022

By Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent for the BBC

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN - AUGUST 27: Displaced people wade through a flooded area in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan on August 27, 2022. Since June, nearly 900 people have died by severe monsoon rains and floods in Pakistan, while thousands have been displaced and millions more affected. Thousands of people who live in areas under threat of flooding have been told to evacuate. Hussain Ali / Anadolu Agency (Photo by Hussain Ali / ANADOLU AGENCY / Anadolu Agency via AFP)

People wade through a flooded area in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan on August 27, 2022 during floods that affected 33 million people. A new UN report says efforts to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C have not been sufficient. Photo: AFP

There is "no credible pathway" to keep the rise in global temperatures below the key threshold of 1.5C, according to a bleak new UN assessment.

Scientists believe that going beyond 1.5C would see dangerous impacts for people all over the world.

The report said that since COP26 last year, governments' carbon cutting plans had been "woefully inadequate".

Only an urgent transformation of society would avoid disaster, the study said.

It is just over a week until the next major climate conference, known as COP27, starts in Egypt.

Mindful of the fact that the world's attention has been elsewhere since climate diplomats met in Glasgow last year, this week has seen a flurry of reports underlining the fact that climate change hasn't gone away.

Answering questions from BBC viewers and listeners this week, the UN Secretary General António Guterres, said the world needed to re-focus on climate change or face catastrophe.

This gloomy mood among scientists and diplomats is underlined in yesterday's release of the UN emissions gap study.

Now in its thirteenth year, the report analyses the gap between the rhetoric and the reality.

It concluded that the 1.5C threshold was now in serious peril.

This analysis found that new efforts to cut carbon would see global emissions fall by less than 1 percent by 2030, when according to scientists, reductions of 45 percent were needed to keep 1.5C in play.

Looking at the impact on temperatures, the study found that with the current policies in place, the world would warm by around 2.8C this century.

If countries got financial support and put into practice the plans they had made, this could be limited to 2.4C.

"We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over," said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, who produced the study.

"Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster," she said.

The UN acknowledged that achieving massive cuts in emissions was now a tall order. But it pointed to electricity, industry, transport and buildings as areas where rapid transformations away from fossil fuels could be made.

"We've got to take climate change with us wherever we go," Anderson said.

"Into the classrooms, into the boardrooms, into the voting booth, over the dinner table. We cannot let go of climate change."

As well as highlighting the slow pace of progress on tackling the causes of warming, other studies published this week showed that governments were failing to prepare for the impacts of higher temperatures.

In the UK, a committee of MPs and peers said the government needed to "get a grip" on the risk to critical infrastructure posed by a warming climate.

The report of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy cited examples where severe weather had overwhelmed transport and communications.

These included the deaths of three people from a train derailment in Scotland after heavy rainfall in August 2020, and the loss of electric power for almost one million people during Storm Arwen in November 2021.

"The thing I find most disturbing is the lack of evidence that anyone in government is focusing on how all the impacts can come together, creating cascading crises," said the chair of the Joint Committee, Dame Margaret Beckett MP.

"There are simply no ministers with focused responsibility for making sure that our infrastructure is resilient to extreme weather and other effects of climate change."

While almost all the reports published this week underline the lack of progress on climate, there are some strong positives amidst the gloom.

The State of Climate Action study said that in transport, a transition to sustainable travel was well underway. Globally, almost half of the buses sold in 2021 were powered by battery electric or fuel cell electric engines.

In passenger car sales, electric vehicles had doubled from the previous year to now account for almost 9 percent of new cars.

This note of hope was also reflected in the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook, also published yesterday.

It argued that the energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine was causing changes that had the potential to hasten the transition to a more secure and sustainable energy system.

The report also found that a raft of new policies in countries like the US, Japan, Korea and the EU would likely see clean energy investments of around US$2 trillion (NZ$3.4tn) by 2030, a rise of more than 50 percent from today.


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